Sunlight is streaming through the whitewashed room as five people huddle around worktables; swaths of fabric, computers and a large cookie jar scattered between them. I’ve arrived at the new Workroom Four studios just in time to experience the Wednesday afternoon screen printing class led by Claire Driscoll, one of the four founders of the arts-based collective. Screen printing, one of the many creative classes on offer at the studio, is part talent and creativity and part patience.
“There are lots of steps,” says Claire. “But by the end of the workshop the students will be able to create their own fabric designs.”
Since moving to their new digs in early May, business at Workroom Four has never been better. Offering a number of arts classes, the space also rents out studios.
“Some people use the skills for their career, some to express themselves creatively and others are just bored and want to try something new,” says Claire. One of the students, a freelance interior designer, hopes screen printing will improve her work. “I have trouble finding interesting fabrics,” explains Mileydy. “So I’ve enrolled in this class to learn how to make my own.”
The Workroom Four seed was planted when Claire’s partner, graphic designer and international school teacher Dorian Gibb, decided he needed a studio space of his own. As the search commenced, Claire and Dorian quickly discovered that they weren’t the only ones in the market for a studio. So when the opportunity came to move into a large space in the new nightlife, fashion, art and culture hub of Zone 9, they jumped at the chance.
By opening day in June 2013, Workroom Four had evolved into a collaborative project of like-minded creatives, establishing private work studios and classroom space for workshops as well as a central gallery to host exhibitions.
“The space at Zone 9 really dictated the concept,” says Claire. “We didn’t plan for Workroom Four. It just developed that way.”
But with the closing of Zone 9 late last year, the Workroom Four partners were forced to find a new home for their growing business concept which successfully balanced their own work and the creative workshops.
Determined to keep the project alive, the team continued to work and teach from home while they went in search of a new space. They also temporarily moved into shared quarters at Module 7 on Tay Ho. “We wanted to keep going,” says Claire. “The classes in particular were growing so quickly that we didn’t want to stop.”
Today, the studios in Workroom Four are the creative home of nine people who work on projects from architecture and furniture design to media and textiles. The new location is entirely different from the Zone 9 space. Located just off An Duong Vuong in Tay Ho, the space sits in a sun-filled 23rd-floor loft with panoramic views across the neighbouring rooftops to the banks of the Red River.
As the creative workshops become increasingly popular and new contributors offer their services, the class schedule continues to change and expand. In addition to the Workroom Four residents, five other professionals contribute to the six-week workshops in areas such as pattern making, life drawing, photography and street art. Michaela, who previously took a fashion design course led by Claire, is now learning screen printing with the hope of designing her own fabric. “My goal is to eliminate Zara and H&M from my wardrobe,” she says.
As the Workroom Four team settles into its new home, aspirations for the future continue to mount. Although partners continue to work on individual design and education projects, joint plans for future workshops and exhibitions are also taking shape. One of the main goals is to offer more classes in Vietnamese.
“Accessibility is important,” explains Claire. “Although the classes are evenly split between Vietnamese and foreign students, we’re hoping to be completely dual language by September, with every class taught in both Vietnamese and English.” Aiding this effort is the offer of complimentary classes to those willing to translate while participating in workshops. The team also hopes to offer scholarships to talented and enthusiastic artists who can’t afford the classes.
Later this year, Workroom Four will host its second Open Exhibition, a display of work from a selection of professional and amateur artists. Anyone is invited to submit work, with the Workroom team selecting pieces to be displayed at the exhibition.
“We like meeting and working with a variety of people,” says Claire. “In the end, Workroom Four is about making nice things in a nice space with people you like to be with.”